What do you get when you combine a “second” family, a slow pace, a super creepy setting, and a “hey, don’t I know that guy?” cast? You get Session 9, that’s what!
I’m a big fan of any movie that takes place entirely or mostly within a single setting. In the case of Session 9, that setting is a former mental asylum. A crew is working in there, trying to remove asbestos and other dangerous fibers, and are (of course) slowly driven crazy by…the setting? The stresses in their life? Something supernatural? While it’s never explicitly stated for each character, it’s obvious something is (and has been) weighing heavily on them, causing them to slowly lose their grip. Having worked in a shop as a mechanic, I know what it’s like to have a “second family” that you work with day in, day out, especially when one or more members of the group starts to crack. Interestingly, one of the things Session 9 nails better than anything else is the portrayal of this “second family”. The interactions between the characters and their reactions to each other feels quite genuine, and their “I hate you/I love you/I’ll get in your way/I’ll help you” way of functioning felt true to life.
That’s not to take anything away from the setting, however. In many movies like this, the setting is played up with wild hallucinations, or scary noises, or things like that. Not so, here; the filmmakers decided to let the inherent creepiness of removing hazardous materials from a rapidly aging yet massive former asylum speak entirely for itself. Why put moving shadows, spooks, and specters around every corner when instead you get to bask in the heebie-jeebies sent up your spine when you look at small bedrooms plastered with random photos, industrial basements, and other wonderful decor commonly found in an abandoned asylum.
While the end felt very “let’s make this complicated for the sake of being complicated”, I personally found the story and character interaction of Session 9 to be its best feature. Many reviews I’ve read online speak of a slow-moving (or, in some cases, non-existent) plot, with no pay-off in the end after considerable buildup. I think a lot of these people were likely expecting some kind of scare-fest, which Session 9 most certainly isn’t (I noticed a similar phenomenon with Shutter Island. Perhaps, like Shutter Island, it just wasn’t marketed correctly?) For me, Session 9 is more of an exploration of the “second family”, and how each member’s own problems contribute to the worsening fragmentation of the group. This isn’t something most people would understand, but anyone that’s worked in construction, or in a shop, or as part of an industrial cleanup crew would likely recognize this quickly. In fact, it’s entirely possible that previously or currently being a part of such a “second family” is required to enjoy this film on the same level I did.
Aside from some tricky editing and a couple of sequences towards the end, there are zero special effects in this entire film. To give it the buzzkill treatment, it’s basically a bunch of people working, talking, and walking. Don’t be mistaken, though: there’s significant creep-factor here, it’s just not up front and in your face. This minimalist approach helps give Session 9 a realistic feel: thanks to the decent script and slightly over-the-top but still great acting, you quickly forget you are watching a movie, and instead just feel like you’re on the job site with these guys.
So long as you keep your expectations in line, Session 9 is well worth your time.